A severe cyclone slammed into India's western coast yesterday, menacing the megacity of Mumbai for the first time in decades.
With winds gusting up to 120kmh and waves as high as six feet, the city is bracing to deal with Cyclone Nisarga at the same time as it battles the coronavirus. Extremely heavy rainfall is predicted.
Mumbai, home to 20 million people, has emerged as the country's coronavirus hot spot, with more than 40,000 cases and 1,300 deaths, straining its creaky healthcare system. Among those evacuated to safety in the city from the approaching cyclone were coronavirus patients.
The state raced to add reinforcements to some of its temporary health facilities built in the past month on open ground, structures that may not be strong enough to withstand the high wind speeds.
Hospitals have been provided with generators.
"Let us fight this danger like we are standing up to the pandemic and are on our way to defeat it," the state's chief minister, Uddhav Thackeray, wrote in a tweet, asking residents to stay indoors for two days. The city was supposed to see a gradual lifting of the virus lockdown this week.
Vehicular movement was banned on a prominent sea link, and gatherings were prohibited across the city. Authorities have identified schools that could serve as temporary shelters and installed pumps in low-lying areas. Besides disaster relief teams, fire engines, lifeguards and navy units have also been deployed.
Authorities advised people to keep their phones charged, have flashlights handy and brace for power cuts due to the heavy rainfall predicted.
KS Hosalikar, a senior official of the meteorological department in Mumbai, said the west coast of India is not known for major cyclones like its eastern part. "Last year was different. We saw five cyclones in the Arabian Sea, which was unusual," he said. One of the reasons behind the phenomenon, he said, could be that the sea is getting warmer.
Experts differ on when India's financial capital was last hit by a severe cyclone.
The last cyclone to make landfall near Mumbai was in 2009, but the storm was not as strong as Nisarga.
The country's meteorological department said the last "severe cyclonic storm to hit close to Mumbai was in 1961", the 'Hindustan Times' reported. (© Washington Post)